Charles of Durazzo’s campaign with the help of Urban VI was really pretty successful. By 1381 he’d defeated Johanna’s husband, and captured Johanna and incarcerated her. It’s true to say that Johanna was advanced in years by this time, so when Charles announced that regrettably Johanna had died of her advanced years, it might be that people shouldn’t have been surprised. But others pointed out that, this was the renaissance not the dark Ages, and suggested murder. There were two principal stories; one that she was strangled by a silken cord, the other that she was smothered between two matresses. The second idea sounds like a bit of a pfaff, actually, so I vote silken cord.
Obviously, Clement VII and the king of France were not keen on the way this had gone, but one king who was – not the mattress thing of course, but the regime change – was Richard II of England. We are still in the throws of the 100 years war of course, but this is not one of the periods we patriotic Englishmen like to focus on. Oh, no, for it’s all 1340s to 60s, or 1415-1425 for us – who could be interested in all that other dull old stuff?
Richard II faced a very different situation to the glory days, one where most of the English gains of Bretigny had disappeared. English arms, once of the finest polished yew, now appeared to be made of cooked spaghetti. So Richard was in the business of trying to construct international coalitions to try to pin back the revived French beast into its pen. Charles Durrazzo’s take over in Naples was a successful bit of proxy war as far as Richard was concerned. He aligned himself with Durazzo, Pope Urban and the HRE, against the opposing faction – the French, Avignon Pope and Johanna. Their Champion was Louis d’Anjou, the successor nominated by Johanna before Durazzo had moved the goalposts. Or chopped them down more like.
But no one thought the French would let this one ride for the sake of quiet life – such was not their idiom. Louis would be back. And so in 1381 Richard was looking for communication channels to Urban in Rome, and Italian expertise to help him – and Hawkwood was the obvious choice. In May 1381, Richard appointed Hawkwood his Ambassador to the Papal Curia, and sent two envoys to carry out the negotiations. This would happen again, in 1385, and it begins to look very much as though Hawkwood acquired the status of ‘our man in Italy’ and what a man to have! Ambassadors had multiple roles of course; as messengers, and as negotiators; and also as a source of information, and fixers. It is unlikely that Hawkwood was recruited to carry out the negotiations; he was less well placed to carry out that role than the envoys that arrived from Richard, who would have been briefed by the king, would know his mind and objectives on a personal basis. But as far as the other duties are concerned – there could be none better. A fixer extraordinaire, who could pull strings and favours all over the peninsular, and provide all the necessary transport, lodgings and protection. A Man at the top of his very own information network on which he could draw, and his very own views in themselves had value. We know that advice was sough ad that information travelled both ways; in May 1382 for example, Hawkwood sent his own valet John Northwood back with messages to the king in England.
Hawkwood doesn’t seem to have moved on from being an Englishman abroad – there’s no sign that he tried to avoid these requests for help, and all must be seen in the context of his gradual building up of land back in Essex. But he was sensitive to the problems working for Richard might cause his Italian employers, and he was good at balancing competing demands.
We get some idea of that when Richard, and pretty much all of Christendom, were not surprised at the appearance in Italy in July 1382 of a grand army under Louis d’Anjou. This was not some desperate last gasp roll of the dice from an impoverished adventurer. Louis had the full support and financing of the richest king in Christendom, the support of the Avignon Pope, the Green Count, Amadeus of Savoy was there in all his…well… greenery, and then the power broker of Italy, Bernabo Visconti, he was there too. This was the grandest of grand alliances. The Emperor beat a hasty retreat, finding some serious tidying that needed doing in his back yard that prevented him from any foreign adventures.
The thing is that Florence, Hawkwood’s employers, really really did not want to get involved in any of this. They would invite who ever won round for tea, but this war looked like a black pit and not one they thought affected their interests. So when both Richard and the Pope, and on the other side Bernabo Visconti tried to buy Hawkwood’s services, they didn’t know what to do; it seemed they might be forced to chose sides. Nor were they confident that they could control Hawkwood anyway; one of the Florentine Signoria wrote
There’s not much we can do to control Hawkwood once he has decided on his course
But for Hawkwood Florence was important in more ways than it had been. He and Donnina had their lands and family within its shadow. There are records of Donnina making applications to the Florence council concerning the estates, and those lands had grown to include San Donata a Torre and Poggibonsi. So Hawkwood took the only course he could that squared the circle; he did nothing. That is, he did nothing until his contract with Florence ran out in October, and Florence then had plausible deniability for any of Hawkwood’s actions.
In July 1382, Anjou’s glittering array of seemingly unstoppable and overwhelming force and chivalry set out from Milan. Hawkwood had already accepted Richard’s plea to make a company available to Urban, a price was agreed. But then Hawkwood did nothing, wiring until October and his release.
By that time, Anjou’s force had been in Naples since early September, besieging Naples, so you imagine the condition of Urban’s fingernails. Hawkwood commanded a force of around 3000 horsemen, which combined with Charles of Durazzo’s 2,000 made a nice force of 5,000 horse. But which would surely be swept aside by the glittering coalition of the north?
Well truth be known by October when Hawkwood finally moved, some of the gilt had chipped from the glittering coalition. 40,000 men had reputedly left Lombardy, but immediately ran into trouble – in the form of local resistance, refusal of supply, and a basic error of choosing the wrong coast – the one where their supply ships weren’t. By the time they besieged Naples, they were much, much reduced by famine, disease, desertion, and found a countryside ravaged anyway by years of war and where there was little food to be had. It was a situation that favoured smaller, more nimble forces. Hawkwood’s approach forced Anjou to raise the siege of Naples and a period of more mobile warfare ensued. Some of it Hawkwood frankly filled with a bit of moonlighting, carrying out his own business on the side, including extorting and pillaging Siena of 14,000 Florins when they refused to give him 2,000 florins in what was basically blackmail. when he then made a similar claim on Perugia, they looked at what had happened in Siena, and learned from history – and paid up immediately.
There were no great battles in the Civil War now to record, it was a lot of skirmish, manoeuvre, guerrilla warfare, siege and negotiations. Hawkwood himself tried to negotiate a peace in January 1383, and the Count of Savoy was keen, but it went nowhere in the end, and by March 1383 it was too late for Amadeus the Green Count anyway – because he was dead. Louis d’Anjou is said to have burst into tears when he heard the news.
Louis’ campaign was in danger of completely disintegrating as Savoy’s army evaporated; and he asked the king of France for help, which eventually came in the form of a large contingent under the control of Enguerard de Coucy, a French nobleman with whom Hawkwood had fought previously, and against whom he had fought previously. Almost inevitably, Coucy asked for Hawkwood to join him for the appropriate fee; and again he didn’t quite land his man. Coucy was at this time aiming at the City of Arrezzo, held by Charles Durazzo.
The thing is Hawkwood doesn’t quite say no. Nor does he though, in the interest of the best wishes of his employers the Pope and Durazzo, pile in militarily to try and save Arezzo, if that had been possible given the size of Coucy’s army. He’s rather equivocal actually, and gives every impression of ducking the issue, of some of that hare running and hound hunting behaviour there’s so much of. The truth may lie in the fact that many of his Tuscan lands lay directly in the flight path of Coucy’s army; Hawkwood was behaving more like a seignorial lord than a free mercenary; trying to avoid having his lands and wealth ravaged.
Through the period also the relationship between Hawkwood and Florence seems suspiciously close, acting as a sort of intermediary between Coucy and Florence; at one point during all the marching and counter marching when Florentine lands were threatened by a free company, Hawkwood advised Florence that they were not enough of a threat to pay off – and so they refused, and duly managed to keep the company at bay. Much of this has the feeling of a Tuscan lord who’s first responsibility was to his wealth and dynasty, maybe to his faraway king, but maybe also to a secret employer in Florence.
Anyway in 1384 the Civil War of Naples – or at least this particular one – came to an end. Coucy did manage to capture Arezzo in October 1384, but by the time he did so, Louis d’Anjou was already dead. And so his campaign no longer had a point. He therefore sold Arezzo to the highest bidder – which was in point of fact Florence, sailed home, and it was all over.
Now then. Parting, I am told, is such sweet sorrow– it is time to say goodbye to one of our dear, dear – may I even say dearest friends. To identify said dear friend, we are going to have to concern ourselves once more with the Vipers – the Visconti.
Now, Bernabo Visconti’s brother Gian Galeazzo had died in 1378; you might remember that the brothers reasonably amicably div’ed up the Visconti domains between each other, Gian Galeazzo ruling the west from Pavia, and Bernabo the east from Milan. The arrangement had carried on under Gian Galeazzo’s eponymous son, who was 21 when he became rule of the west, Gian the younger was married to a daughter of the King of France, and was deeply ambitious for his alliance and relationship with France. He ruled alongside Bernabo for an amiable few years after his father’s death, and was apparently a far less outrageous character, quieter and more dependable, than was Bernabo. No one expected any trouble from him.
Anyway, Gian Galeazzo in May 1385 was on his way to the shrine of Madonna del Monte at Varese which as you’ll know from your encyclopedic knowledge of Italian geography is just 35 miles north west of Milan, and so invited his unc to come and say hello – hey unc come on over and let the chins wag, sort of thing. So down Bernabo came, for said chin waging. Where he met instead once Jacopo Del Verme, a hard faced mercenary captain with a surprisingly large retinue who rather than offering him soft cushions and a comfortable pavillion frog marched him off to the nearest castle.
This came out of the blue seemingly; but it was a ripples from a pebble thrown in the pool thing. While Bernabo was allying with Louis of Anjou and Louis of France including a plan to marry a daughter to a son of King Louis, eyes on his intrigues in Naples, Gian Galeazzo was sitting there in Pavia panicking that his uncle was muscling in on his special relationship with France, that his daughter would lose out. And honestly, who would hand on heart put such a thing past Bernabo’s capabailities? So Gian Galeazzo decided to do something about the ripples. Seized his uncle, threw him into the castle at Trezzo, started a very public process of whipping up public fury against his uncle with the Milanese public, and proceeded to mop up every relative he could find and seize all the organs of government. Before long all the Visconti dominions were basically made one. Before the year was out, it was regretfully announced to the world that, so sorry, obviously his uncle Bernabo was terribly old and had very unfortunately died of old age and something. It was generally agreed that the something was poison.
On 6th May, Hawkwood received a letter from the hand of a dusty and exhausted messenger. It was from Hawkwood’s brother in law, Donnina’s brother for those of you who, like me, are barely able to deal with the meaning of the word cousin. This was one Carlo Visconti, illegitimate son of Bernabo Visconti. He wrote this on 5th May
We notify you that …in Milan the count of virtue seized and detained the magnificent and exalted lord, Bernabo, our parent, along with our magnificent brother Ludovico. We are free in Crema and the castle of Porta Romana is held in our name’
The reason for Carlo’s letter was to ask for aid, come to me Hawkwood with as many soldiers because, in Carlos’s words,
It is time to show your manliness
Hawkwood’s idea of manliness did not include dying in the lost cause of an illegitimate son of a man who’d thrown him off the lands supposed given as a wedding gift. His idea of manliness was instead to cut a deal with the winner, which is what he did. By July 1385 Hawkwood had signed a sort of retainer Condotta with Gian Galeazzo promising to serve when called; for which he would receive 300 florins a month, and some of his lands back in Lombardy. 300 Florins might not sound a lot in the context of the tens of thousands we talk about regularly, but hey, every bit counts, and it was higher than the sum he was receiving at the time from Florence. Plus he could add it to a small stipend he had from Lucca, a city where he had connections the bankers. Seems like a sensible decision, surely not a time of life to start wild adventures rescuing young men from castles.
The deal also bought Hawkwood a yet closer relationship with his king, Richard II, who on hearing the news promptly made him his ambassador to Gian Galeazzo and once more Hawkwood met Richard’s envoy Nicholas Dagworth and travelled to Milan with him to met the new senior Visconti.
Hawkwood’s focus was now more on home as well as diplomacy rather than war; because in February 1386 Donnina gave birth to a son, John, and he seems to have focussed on his estates.
In the north, however, there was trouble that would call him back once more. Trouble with a reasonably capital T. There was basically the normal tale of two cities, a mix of commercial and military rivalry. But it did then get a bit nasty. The ruler of Verona Antonio della Scalla, challenged the ruler of Padua, Francesco Carerra to single combat to, you know, clear the air a bit. Now Francesco was known at the time as Ii Vecchio, the old, because he was 60 plus so clearly past doing much more than telling the young ‘uns to get a hair cut. When Francesco’s son suggested he take on Antonio on his behalf, Francesco’s widely reported words were
Son it is neither right nor honourable that you and I, who are born of noble and legitimate matrimony should fight with a most vile bastard, born from the stomach of a wretched baker woman
Obviously, these were not the words of love, peace and harmony, so the air remained uncleared. The air might have been cleared when the Paduans then won a stunning military victory at Brentelles. The extent of the victory was quite extraordinary, with almost all the senior Scalieri commanders captured, and you might think that would be the end of the affair, but there was a but.
Behind Verona, stood the seemingly limitless wealth of Venice. Venetian finances helped Verona rebuild their army, bigger than it was before, better than it was before, faster and all that – and armed with an interesting gunpowder device too we’ll hear about. Even the victor of Brentelle was worried – and so Ubaldini, who was said victor, in lookwd for allies to face the resurgent Verona, and in January went to try to recruit the man described as the
‘most famous captain in all Italy, the most expert and prudent in feats of arms’
I speak of course of John Hawkwood.